Semester Abroad, Global Correspondents

In the Moment

April 28, 2020
By Jackie Shi, CAS '21

Jackie Shi is one of the Semester Abroad Global Correspondents writing and sharing her experience abroad during the Spring 2020 semester. Follow along with the group of correspondents on our blog and look out for their images on the @pennabroad Instagram feed. 

Semester Abroad
National University of Singapore

I woke up to a stream of panicked messages in the group chat I was in with my fellow exchange friends. My eyes were still half-closed as I tried reading the headline on the news: “U.S. Issues Level 4 ‘Do Not Travel’ Advisory, Urging Citizens to Come Home.” As my friends panicked about what they were planning to do, I opened my email to an urgent message from Penn Abroad advising students to depart from their abroad locations immediately regardless of where they were. I had a flight booked within the next hour and called my parents to tell them I’d be home in three days. 

Should I email my professors? Do I start packing? What about my finals? So many thoughts swirled around my head as I spent the next hour attempting to process everything that had just happened. As I thought about what I should do next, my mind was stuck on one realization: I still didn’t even have a picture of myself in front of Marina Bay. Marina Bay is arguably the first thing that any tourist thinks of when they picture Singapore. It’s the building with three towers and a boat-like looking structure that sits on top. I had been in Singapore for two months at that point and while I’ve been to Marina Bay on multiple occasions, I put off taking my obligatory tourist picture there every time, thinking that I could just do it next time. 

As my friends and I were all packing to leave to our respective countries, we all fretted about the same thing: we didn’t have enough time. We all had lists of things that we still wanted to do, places we had yet to visit, and foods we still haven’t tried. I thought I would have months to explore Singapore and with the smallness of the country, I naively assumed that I was bound to see and do all the things I wanted to. But even though I had been in the country for weeks, here I was scrambling to take a picture in front of Singapore’s most iconic landmark on the last day I was in the country.  

Image of street food in Singapore
One of my favorite dishes in Singapore is
satay, or skewered and grilled meat with peanut sauce.

It’s easy to grow complacent and lose the sense of urgency to explore when you’re studying abroad for a semester. But one of the most important things I’ve taken away from my study abroad experience is the importance of living in the now. Having the rug pulled out from under me not only forced me to confront my fears of uncertainty and oblivion, but it made me realize the brevity of time. A lot can change overnight, and I learned how imperative it is to be intentional with the time I do have. I may not have checked off everything that I wanted to do on my list, but I’m happy to say that I left Singapore feeling content. I returned home with a lot of new friends and memories, a tummy full of Asian street food, and a photo of me in front of Marina Bay. 

To everyone who’s reading this, I hope that you are safe and healthy wherever you are in the world. To all those who are in quarantine, I encourage you to make the most out of the time you have during this period of uncertainty. Text that friend you were meaning to make plans with, stop putting off cleaning your room, pick up that book you’ve been wanting to read, or try making some banana bread. To all those who plan to study abroad, take pictures no matter how touristy it may be. Don’t put off the things you’ve been meaning to do, and just do it. It may seem like you have all the time in the world but trust me—you don’t. Because if not now, then when? 

image of students in Singapore
Some of the friends I've made while studying abroad.

The Semester Abroad (SA) program offers undergraduate students the opportunity to study in a new global community through extended study for a semester or year. Penn Abroad partners with top institutions around the globe and collaborates with Penn’s undergraduate schools to offer programs for students across academic disciplines.